As a licensed nutrition professional I am at the abject mercy of research. And like other areas of life, when the pendulum swings it makes me crazy! It is almost a full-time job staying on top of current research. Let’s take coconut oil for an example.
For a very long time it was generally understood that tropical oils, like coconut oil, were the worst thing to include in your diet if you were concerned about your blood cholesterol levels. (Remember CSPI’s report om movie theater popcorn?) But recently there is a renewed interest in coconut products from not just the foodies but it appears athletes as well. Just last week I was contacted by our local health reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, Ms. Irene Maher. Irene has a very unbiased style of writing and saves the best interview topics for me (or so I like to think). http://www.tampabay.com/things-to-do/food/cooking/were-coconuts/2124138
Coconut oil is experiencing a popularity reserved for food fads: promoters claim it will treat a number of disorders including Alzheimer’s, diabetes, obesity and fatigue. And it may have begun with the book The Coconut Oil Miracle by Bruce Fife.
All fats are made of strings of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in various lengths and degree of unsaturation. These strings are called fatty acids. Each fatty acid can exert a health benefit or promote disease. Coconut oil is no different.
One aspect that has proponents excited is that a fatty acid in coconut oil, Lauric acid, raises blood levels of HDL (happy) cholesterol. Coconut oil just happens to be very high in Lauric acid. On the flip side, Lauric acid also raises blood levels of LDL (lousy) cholesterol. But does raising the HDL cancel out the LDL? No one really knows as the definitive research hasn’t been done yet. In the mean time, the Byrd Center at the University of South Florida has received funding to see if can make a difference for patients who have Alzheimer’s disease.
So here is my bottom line: while coconut oil can add a unique flavor in recipes and has a very high smoke point in cooking, it is still very saturated so use it sparingly just like butter. And I will continue to watch that pendulum swing.